Cape Town – The series safely in the bag, South Africa may
feel suitably emboldened to pitch a four-pronged pace arsenal into battle
against Sri Lanka in the third and final Test at the Wanderers from Thursday.
It would go against their general preference – as it would
most teams, really – in modern times to slot at least one specialist spinner
into the bowling mix.
But given the tourists’ pretty clear fragility and lack of
application against pace in the series so far, and the Bullring’s reputation
for healthy bounce and carry, the Proteas could hardly be blamed if they
decided to truly go for the jugular with an all-out speed assault.
That way, they would most certainly assure themselves of an
opportunity to try out uncapped fast bowler Duanne Olivier of the Knights, who
was added to the squad after the much-publicised Kyle Abbott Kolpak exit drama
despite Wayne Parnell also remaining a patient part of the group.
If they decide to retain emerging left-arm spinner Keshav
Maharaj, it is overwhelmingly likely to come down to a straight shootout for
the Abbott vacancy between Olivier, 24, and the more experienced left-armer
Parnell to supplement the presence of in-form Kagiso Rabada and rejuvenated
Frankly, though, how much is there to lose by fielding both
at a venue where spinners so seldom play keynote roles in Test matches?
The last time a slow bowler managed a Wanderers “five-for”,
for example, was as far back as November 1994, when New Zealand’s left-arm
spinner Matthew Hart bagged 5/77 in the SA second innings as the visitors
earned an upset 137-run triumph, although the Black Caps were eventually pipped
2-1 in the series anyway.
Considering the newly-created Abbott void, and the ongoing
absence of staple speedsters like Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, giving Olivier a
gallop would be extremely useful from a future-planning perspective.
If the brains trust were adamant that leaving out Maharaj –
and yes, he would be a little unlucky to go – didn’t represent a good idea,
then Olivier is far less certain of a debut appearance.
Enigmatic though he is, Parnell is a long way from a spent
force at 27, and has waited eagerly for a fifth crack at Test cricket since
pulling up injured – he had taken two wickets in his first eight overs – during
the Australian first innings of a Port Elizabeth clash in February 2014.
He offers appealing variety given his left-arm status, as
well as additional, lower-order credentials with the blade, so a recall for him
could well leave the younger tearaway Olivier kicking his heels for a bit
South Africa may get cold feet over the prospect of four
quickies due to the fact that they tried that approach the last time they
played a Bullring Test, against England last season and -- at least in the
result column for that match -- it bombed.
Alastair Cook and company triumphed by seven wickets for a
decisive 2-0 lead in the four-Test series; the SA pace department comprised
Chris Morris, Morkel, Rabada and another debutant on that occasion, Hardus
Viljoen, who is also now on the Kolpak bandwagon.
But Sri Lanka, with respect, aren’t England for proficiency
against pace in challenging conditions, and the fact that a fair bit of rain
and/or cloudy skies is in the long-range weather forecast for Johannesburg perhaps
makes it that bit more justifiable for the Proteas to go pace-heavy again.
Regardless of whether they eventually go with three seamers
or four, the host nation will be heavy favourites to make a clean sweep of the
They have not won every Test in a series of three contests
or more since 2012/13, when Pakistan were on the receiving end of a 3-0
grilling on our soil.
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